It All Starts In My Departmental Office

My initial inclination in responding to this question is to flip it on its head. This means that rather than addressing how we build digital cohorts and academic communities in (presumed) online spaces, instead we might focus on how cohorts and communities are dependent upon and energized by ongoing collaborative labor based out of specific, physical spaces.

Before attempting to build digital cohorts in my role as Coordinating Editor for In Media Res, I found it crucial to build an academic community from the ground up out of a defined place: my office at Georgia State University. Prior to agreeing to take the site over from Avi in June 2010, it was crucial for me to know that I had a group of graduate students with whom I could collaborate on building an a set of protocols and collaborative practices for the site. We had to work closely – both online and via in-person meetings – to do everything from brainstorming theme week ideas to developing templates for communicating with curators to creating training sessions for new staff members. (That is just the tip of the iceberg regarding what more than a dozen of us have accomplished over the past several years.)

Fortunately, several people in my department saw IMR as an opportunity not only to network with scholars, journalists, critics, and the wider public about topics of interest to them, but also viewed the site as a way to forge more meaningful relationships with each other. Thus to me, as important as IMR has been to me in introducing me to the ideas of individuals with diverse research interests around the world, it has been equally important in helping me cultivate deeper interpersonal relationships with librarians, filmmakers, scholars, and graduate students at my own university. In short, my experiences working on IMR indicate how utopian visions of large-scale digital interaction are fueled by the pragmatic efforts of smaller communities rooted in specific spaces and places. Further, these efforts must consistently be nurtured and supported, both institutionally and socially.


 Thanks for this post! I see a lot of good advice here for new projects that are starting up. I also see a lot of connections between your post and Rochelle Rodrigo's, in that a physical place or event is essential to grounding a digital community.  I also see the necessary infrastructure of the project, being housed at a major university with leadership willing to support the project. 

One of the things I am focusing on tomorrow is how these communities work when everyone is not in the same place. I am glad this has been such a postive experience for IMR and Georgia State. 

This makes me think of the digital communities that emerge within hybrid in-person/distance learning classrooms. Kind of like passing folded paper notes in classrooms of yester-decade, these sub-discourse groups engage an ongoing commentary concurrent with the actual class. Unlike the old-fashioned way ("Psst! Hey - pass this over!") however, these seem to be focused on what is happening within the group as well as the online/offline class space.

This isn't to say that these chats are serious in nature - they tend to be comments that might be considered non-constructive to the real-world discussion. Despite the livliness of this group conversation, this augmented engagement with the material and the physical elements enriches the classroom experience. 

 This sounds a lot like what happened at ODU when Avi and Jamie began overseeing on the front page of Media Commons. (Also, Jamie is being far too modest in her comment. She should have said something along the lines of, "That's exactly what I did!")

As Jamie mentioned, the importance of a strong foundation for the online community in offline space seems to be an important point raised by Shelley and Alisa. It may be worth exploring the specific aspects of the offline space that are so essential for the online one? Or, to put it differently, what does an intial foundation in the "real world" provide that a purely online foundation lacks?

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